"As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever." - Reagan, January 20, 1981

"In Vietnam, we tried and failed in a just cause. No More Vietnams can mean we will not try again. It should mean we will not fail again." - from No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The roots of Obama's view on Iran - Vendetta against the Shah

I did criticize the President [Carter] because of our undercutting of what was a stalwart ally—the Shah of Iran. And I am not at all convinced that he was that far out of line with his people or that they wanted that to happen. The Shah had done our bidding and carried our load in the Middle East for quite some time, and I did think that it was a blot on our record that we let him down. Have things gotten better? The Shah, whatever he might have done, was building low-cost housing, had taken land away from the Mullahs and was distributing it to the peasants so they could be landowners—things of that kind. But we turned it over to a maniacal fanatic who has slaughtered thousands and thousands of people, calling it executions. - President Reagan, Debate with Walter Mondale (Defense and Foreign Policy) (October 21, 1984)

There are 2 instances where Obama's distain for the Shah is evident

1.) Expressing his belief in the myths about Mossadegh and 1953 during his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo

So the popular mantra goes

Obama admits US involvement in 1953 Iran coup
(AFP) – Jun 4, 2009

CAIRO (AFP) — US President Barack Obama made a major gesture of conciliation to Iran on Thursday when he admitted US involvement in the 1953 coup which overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

"In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," Obama said in a keynote speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.

It was the first time a serving US president had publicly admitted American involvement in the coup.

The US Central Intelligence Agency, with British backing, masterminded the coup after Mossadegh nationalised the oil industry, run until then by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

For many Iranians, the coup demonstrated duplicity by the United States, which presented itself as a defender of freedom but did not hesitate to use underhand methods to get rid of a democratically elected government to suit its own economic and strategic interests.

Washington went on to become the major backer of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Relations between the two countries have been severed ever since the revolution's aftermath and former president George W. Bush made the Tehran government part of his "axis of evil" with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Stalinist North Korea.

But since he took office earlier this year, Obama has made repeated overtures to Iran, offering it a dialogue on its nuclear programme and other outstanding issues.

On Thursday Obama did not conceal the extent of the differences between the two governments but emphasised his readiness to try to overcome them through diplomacy.

"For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us," the US president said.

"Since the Islamic revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against US troops and civilians. This history is well known.

"Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build."

Shortly after Obama's inauguration on January 20, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded apologies for "crimes" he said the United States had committed against Iran, starting with the 1953 coup.

Arab American Institute President James Zogby said that although Obama's admission of US involvement in the coup added little to historical knowledge as it was already well known, it remained an important gesture to Iran.

"There is no surprise," Zogby said when asked about the fact of CIA involvement,
But he added that Obama's admission of it was a "very important statement, it's the beginning of closing the chapter."

[UPDATE: Turns out that it was Ground Zero mosque imam Feisal Abdul Rauf who had input into the writing of Obama's speech, and he had rehashed the 1953 lies a week or so after Obama's speech in an effort to justify the mullahs' sham-election fraud and brutalizing of students who dared to speak out freely.]

This must have come from one of Obama's "many talks with the Khalidis" that "had been 'consistent reminders to me [Obama] of my own blind spots and my own biases [about the middle east]...'", since his buddy Rashid Khalidi seems to like this 1953 mantra within it's broader "Blame America" context.

The problem, as I said, is that it's not true.

[ANOTHER UPDATE: I posted an excerpt from Amir Taheri's book "The Persian Night" that tackles this myth as effectively as I have seen]

First off, Mossadegh was not "democraticly elected". This is well documented for anyone who bothers to look up Iranian government practice at that time. This is best articulated in the form of a comment on an iranian.com post from November 2009

In April 1951 the Shah appointed Mossadegh as prime minister through the same constitutional process that all the prime minsters before and since had gone through: a vote of inclination by Majles followed by the royal appointment. Therefore, Mossadegh was appointed as prime minister and not elected. If his appointment was supposed to have been democratic so were the appointments of ALL his predecessors and quite a few of his successors.

Number two, the CIA barely had any role in it. Consider the word of those who were there or were close to those who were there

Ardeshir Zahedi


Mossadegh had been abandoned by many of his former colleagues, among them such personalities as Hussein Makki and Mozzafar Baqai, and opposed by parties that had provided the backbone of his support in 1951.
The most prominent members of the Shiite clerical establishment, including the Ayatollahs Borujerdi, Hakim, Shahresetani and Kashani were solidly opposed by Mossadegh and wanted the Shah to remove him. They were all in contact with my father and supported him in their struggle against Mussadeq.
A leading member of the Majlis (parliament) Hassan Haeri-Zadeh, who had been one of Mossadegh’s strongest supporters until then, even cabled the United nations secretary general to appeal for help against Mossadegh’s increasingly despotic rule.

The Shah had already clashed with Mossadegh’s in 1952 and forced the ''doctor'' to resign as prime minister. At that time, however the ''politics of street'' had turned against the Shah and he had been obliged to reinstate Mossadegh. In August 1953 the tide had turned against Mussadeq who had further undermined his own position by disbanding the parliament elected under his own stewardship.


Loy Henderson , the US ambassador to Tehran at the time, makes it abundantly clear in his dispatches to the State Department that Mussadeq was overthrown by a popular uprising which started from the poorest districts of the Iranian capital. Henderson’s reports have been published in a book of more than 100 pages, translated into Persian and published in Iran.
The Iranian public, therefore, has a more balanced view of the events than its American counterpart which is fed recycled claims by former CIA operatives. British and Soviet accounts at the time also make it clear that Mussadeq had fallen victim to his own hubris which antagonized his allies and forced the Iranian people into revolt.

More than 100 books, by Iranian and American scholars, give the lie to the CIA operatives ''self-congratulatory'' account.
Barry Rubin writes “It cannot be said that the United States overthrew Mussadeq and replaced him with the Shah… Overthrowing Mussadeq was like pushing an open door.”
Gary Sick writes ''The belief that the United States had single-handedly imposed a harsh tyrant on a reluctant populace became one of the central myths of the relationship, particularly as viewed from Iran.''
Amir Taheri writes “What happened was not a successful conclusion of a (CIA) conspiracy but a genuine uprising provoked by economic hardship, political fear and religious prejudice.”
Richard Helms, long time CIA director, told a BBC television program that '' the agency did not counter rumours of in Iran because the Iranian episode looked like a success. At the time, of course, agency needed some success, especially to counter fiascos as the Bay of Pigs.''
Even Donald Wilber, the CIA operative whose ''secret report'' has been given top billing by the New York Times makes it clear that whatever he and his CIA colleagues were up to in Tehran at the time simply failed.
Wilbert writes:'' headquarters spent a day featured by depression and despair… The message sent to Tehran on the night of August 18 said that the operation has been tried and failed and that contrary operations against Mussadeq should be discontinued.''

Mossadegh was overthrown on 19 August when hundreds of thousands to Tehranis poured into the streets to demand his departure and the return of the Shah.
This was not a military ''coup d’etat'' since there was no change in the constitution or any of the structures of the Iranian state. Nor was the Shah’s position as head of state affected. Under the constitution of 1906 the Shah had the power to name and dismiss prime ministers. He simply exercised that power by dismissing Mossadegh and nominating Zahedi in a perfectly legal and constitutional manner… Mussadeq tried to resist his dismissal but was swept away by the masses.


Mossadegh himself never blamed the Americans for his downfall. He was intelligent enough to know why his political career led into an impasse.
The anti-Mossadegh coalition did, of course, look to the United States, as the leader of the Free World, to counter any ore than the soviets might have, made at the time to intervene in what was a domestic Iranian power struggle.


Empress Farah Pahlavi's response to the New York Times

Howell Raines Esq.
Editorial Page Editor,
The New York Times
229 West 43rd ST.
New York, NY 10036-3959
April 20, 2000

Dear Mr. Raines,

The article " a Secret C.I.A History" printed in the New York Times on April 16, 2000 renders a self-lauding, exaggerated, and partial account of the events of 1953. It also makes several erroneous and unfair remarks about my late husband, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Contrary to what the so-called secret history suggests, my husband's hesitation about dismissing Premier Mossadegh did not result from his indecisiveness. The Shah had strongly supported Dr.Mossadegh in the fight for the nationalization of Iran's oil industry, agreeing with him that Iran had been systematically exploited by the British and other foreign powers. For him, the Premier's struggle to emancipate Iran's resources took precedence over all other issue save protecting the nation's independence and territorial integrity. Dr.Mossadegh misperceived the international array of economic and military powers deployed against him and Iran. He overestimated the strategic importance of Iran's oil to the Western world. The country was taken step by step to a political and diplomatic impasse. Iran's economic and social conditions deteriorated. The Communist Party grew inordinately in size and power, penetrating several critical government institutions including the armed forces. In the meantime, his former allies - the middle class, clerics, merchants, and some members of the national front renounced him.

My husband supported Dr.Mossadegh as long as possible. For several months, he resisted many members of the political elite, including several of the Premier's former allies, who insisted that Dr. Mossadegh be discharged. The Shah’s reluctance sprung partly from his wish to be certain that deposing the premier accorded with Iran's constitution. It was only when the Prime Minister arbitrarily dissolved the constitutionally elected Parliament, and the Shah was convinced that the country's national independence and territorial integrity were manifestly threatened, did he decide to dismiss Dr.Mossadegh.

To claim that the Monarchy was saved in 1953 because of the C.I.A involvement and that the late DR. Mossadegh was removed from power with a sum of money is an insult to every Iranian.

The report says that the message sent to Tehran on the night of August 18th was that " the operation has been tried and failed." The Monarchy was saved because it was the will of all Iranians.
While some selected documents produced by a specific agency may indeed be conducive to the current disposition of a specific administration, it would be wrong to assume any objective observer, be it an Iranian or foreigner, base his opinion solely on such a limited account.

It is unfortunate that in an attempt to appease the current ruling clerics in Iran, the government of the United States and increasingly the media have chosen to disparage the late Shah of Iran without consideration of his pivotal role in regional and world peace and his service to his country. It is equally unfortunate that they choose to confuse the attitude of the present regime in Iran towards the United States with that of the people of Iran.

The thirty-seven years of the Shah’s reign concurrent with the administration of eight US Presidents shows a close and mutually
beneficial alliance for most of the time.

Contrary to recent statements by US officials, Iranian people never held animus toward Americans before or after the events of 1953. Witness the friendship Iranians extended to many Americans in Iran prior to the revolution and the hospitality shown to the few Americans now traveling to Iran. In the interest of the two peoples, it is essential that no one allow this misconception to cloud sound judgment.

Iran will rise from her ashes.

Sincerely yours,
Farah Pahlavi

[This NPR audio has some errors that are addressed above]

And the Shah's own account

"It was only on reaching the edge of the abyss that the Iranian people awoke to the immensity of the danger which threatened them, but first there were three days of rioting in Teheran. The first two days were organized by the partisans of Mosaddeq and the Toudeh [Communist Party]. It was not until the morning of the third day, August 19, 1953, that with extraordinary courage, workers and artisans, students and professional men, soldiers and policemen, even women and children confronted the guns, machine guns and even tanks of the raving dictator and reversed the situation. A single warning shot fired from a loyal tank at the house of the ex-Prime Minister put an end to three years of demented politics. Dressed in pyjamas, the President climbed the wall into neighboring garden and took refuge in a cellar belonging to the director of postal services. He had had twenty-seven gallows erected in Sepah Square where he meant publicly to hang his enemies some of whom were former members of his own party.

"I returned to Teheran where I was greeted with popular enthusiasm. Throughout Iran the voice of the people called irresistibly. Before, I had been no more than a hereditary sovereign, but now I had the right to claim that I had really been elected by the people.

"In front of his judges, Mosaddeq continued to play his part, he was at times pitiable, he fabricated stories and behaved extravagantly. He continued to make a spectacle of himself in front of the international press. Since his mother was a descendant of the Qajars he may have hated our dynasty. I do not know. But I knew that he would certainly be condemned to death. He was convicted of treason.

"I told the court not to take into account his actions against me. Freed after three years in prison, he went into retirement on his large estate at Ahmad-Abad to the west of Teheran and died there in 1967.”

"It took nearly thirty months for the Iranian people to see Mosaddeq as the prototype sorcerer’s apprentice, incapable of controlling or dominating the forces of destruction which he himself had unleashed. Although by the end of August the rabble no longer ruled and honest citizens could once more live and work in peace, the country was nonetheless ruined and indebted. The damages suffered by our economy amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars and we had wasted three years.”

On Tudeh Party
“The communist plan consisted firstly in using Mosaddeq to topple me. According to some papers discovered, belonging to the Toudeh, Mosaddeq was to be eliminated two weeks after my departure. I have seen postage stamps printed in the name of the People’s Iranian Republic which was then to be proclaimed. The uprising of the masses in my favour took the conspirators by surprise”.

“There being no doubt about the political and financial support given by the Russians to the Toudeh, Great Britain and, more especially, the United States were said to have financed the overthrow of the Mosaddeq. But the most accurate documentation proves that at the time of these events the CIA had spent no more than 60,000 dollars. I really do not think that such a sum is enough to make a whole country rise up in a few days.”

2.) In his book "Dreams from my Father", in chapter six, he relates that during his time at Occidental College, 1979 to 1981, in the chaotic and bloody aftermath of the Shah's overthrow and the rise of the mullah tyranny, and the Iran Hostage Crisis (Nov 1979 to Jan 1981), Obama still considered the Shah as the bad guy and immediately choose to verbally trash him when the topic came up

When a balding Iranian with a glass eye was harassing Obama's friend (and future violent criminal) Earl Chew ("Marcus") in the school library, asking insulting questions about why slaves had allowed themselves to be subjugated and did not fight back, Obama came to Chew's aid, pointing out that not only did the slaves fight back heroically, but

Was the collaboration of some slaves any different than the silence of Iranians who stood by and did nothing as Savak thugs murdered and tortured opponents of the Shah? How could we judge other men until we had stood in their shoes?

This would have been a perfect answer, IF he had not tried to compare the Shah's Iran to Slavery. In 1979-1981, wouldn't the mullah regime that had imposed an absolute tyranny, sanctions rape of women, uses children as weapons and was committing was committing outrageous acts of hostage taking and terrorism be a much more logical comparison to slavery? Why immediately go after the liberal regime of the Shah?

To break down his language, let's first identify Savak. Savak was the Iranian state police and intelligence apparatus during the time of the Shah. In his book, the Shah explains that

“Savak was instituted in Iran to combat communist subversion after the disastrous Mossadeq episode…. It is not for me to judge the attitude adopted by Western countries towards their communists. Savak was created, then, to put an end to subversive activities which constitute, for outside and inside, a serious danger to Iran. The organization was entrusted to General Bakhtiar, in 1953, and he called in the CIA to advise him. Subsequently many Savak officials went to be trained by the CIA at Langley. They also went ot other Western countries to observe the methods used there. “

“I cannot defend Savak’s every action. It is possible that people arrested were roughly handled. However, precise instructions were given in order that no abuse might take place. When, a year later, the Red Cross wished to investigate, the prisons were opened to their representatives. Attention was paid to their recommendations and, from that moment, we heard no more complaints...

"With regard to those who were arrested for political reasons-I cannot include arsonists and saboteurs in this category-I affirm that they were properly treated and they were never molested in any way. No one can tell me the name of a single politician who has been 'liquidated’ by Savak.”

Included in the category of those who the Savak were to defend against were the Khalidi era PLO, who helped train the Islamists and cooperated with them and the Communists in their efforts to bring down an American ally.

And as far as the idea that Shah was some tyrant

For many years the Martyrs Foundation collected the names of the victims of the anti-Shah revolution classifying them by age, sex, education, profession and address. The files were kept secret until 1996/7 when a decision was made to make public the figures on the anniversary of the revolution. At about this time, Emad al-Dib Baghi, was hired as a researcher and editor of the bonyad's magazine "Yad Yaran" (Remembering our Comrades) to make sense of the data. By the time his work had finished he was told that the names were not to be made public. The reason given was that to pursue the matter would run contrary to the statements made by the late Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors who claimed that "60,000 men, women and children were martyred by the Shah's regime."

Emad al-Din Baghi who left the Martyrs Foundation to write two books on the subject claims that the authorities felt that releasing the true statistics would simply confuse the public. So, officials continued to stick to the exaggerated numbers. During a debate in the Majlis at the height of the US hostage crisis, an Islamic deputy claimed that giving in to America would be an insult to the memory of "70,000 martyrs and 100,000 wounded who fought to destroy the rotten monarchy." In fact, by continuing the myth that so many people had been killed, the regime was able to buy a certain legitimacy for its "noble revolution" and excesses.

"Sooner or later the truth was bound to come out," Baghi argued. In his opinion history should be based on objective findings and not baseless rumours which was the root of the anti-Shah hysteria and street demonstrations in 1978 and 1979. The true numbers are fascinating because contrary to the official view they are quite low and highly disproportionate to the hundreds of thousands murdered in the last 24 years in the Islamic republic.

The statistical breakdown of victims covering the period from 1963 to 1979 adds up to a figure of 3,164. Of this figure 2,781 were killed in nation wide disturbances in 1978/79 following clashes between demonstrators and the Shah's army and security forces. Baghi has no reason to doubt these figures and believes that it is probably the most comprehensive number available with the possible exception of a few names that were not traced.

With these facts in hand, it is nearly impossible for regime apologists to claim that America is the problem. Our President should not be among them.

Know who our friends are, Mr. President. And Know who are our enemies.

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